'The teacher dreams that haunt us in the holidays'

With the holidays approaching, one teacher admits she will be plagued by school-based dreams for the first few weeks

Teacher dreams_editorial

The holidays are within sniffing distance and I can’t wait. Hours at a stretch of non-timetabled time, a break from marking and strategic planning and juggling personalities, and actual lie-ins. I am a worshipper of sleep above almost all else in life (probably the ongoing symptom of having a sleepless baby for two years). But I’ve never been great at winding down. It usually takes a couple of weeks, during which my dreams are invariably about work, as my brain gradually processes the intensity of the preceding working weeks.

This one featured during the Easter holidays.

It’s 8.23pm (the time is always very specific.) My sat-nav has sent me to a cinema in the wrong town, so I’m speeding along dark country lanes to get there to supervise the Year 9 girls whose trip I’ve arranged. Time gets swallowed up. There’s no way I’ll make it. I arrive at work the next morning to be told by the deputy head that, as I can’t be trusted with the care of young people, I will need to work in "there" until further notice. "There" is a very specific mop cupboard just next to my classroom, into which has been installed a low desk and not much else. I would hear from the official authorities in due course.

I’m not in the habit of sharing my dreams with Year 11, but my class did find this one particularly amusing. Especially as it came soon after one of them cheerfully informed me of his own dream, in which I’d driven a Hummer off the edge of a cliff with our whole class in the back. Take THAT, Kell! I planned my lessons particularly carefully that week!

A wise man said: "With great power comes great responsibility." I always thought that quote must stem from an eminent philosopher, but it's Spiderman's Uncle Ben who takes the credit. If my dreams are anything to go by, great responsibility is both hugely fulfilling and, apparently, very scary.

Dreams of missing lessons

Usually (the recurring theme), I look down and I’m still wearing my pyjamas. It’s 9.07am, the bell went 7 minutes ago and all the students are in lessons. Including mine. Except I’m not there, and there’s some random room number that I don't recognise, and I’ve walked through fields of cows and ramshackle workshops and winding corridors. It’s 9.23 now and I still can’t find them. They’re probably rioting. Or in danger. Or something. It’s 9.32 and I STILL can’t find them.

There are the comedy dreams, too. A student is berating me for a particularly dodgy choice of hair dye (based on a true story involving an unfortunate and ill-fated urge to go blonde on a Sunday evening). I’m on a stage having to sing the karaoke version of Simply the Best with my old SLT team. Teacher-pupil roles are reversed and I’m trying, quakingly, to make myself invisible the back of a classroom whilst Bobby in Year 7 tries to convey the intricacies of quadratic equations.

There are also the poignant ones. I’m at a prom and students from years gone by come in with warm words and cheery updates. Wise and wonderful colleagues appear with hugs and reminders of the gems they shared that have stayed with me.

And, of course, the cold-sweat ones. The clicking clacking footsteps in alleyways which I know herald another reprimand, another slight, another reminder of why the school, the context, we choose makes all the difference.

I find teachers’ work-based dreams particularly interesting and would love to hear yours, if only so we can exorcise them together in advance of our well-earned holidays. 

NB, I am no psychoanalyst nor dream expert. My only expertise is as a teacher, like most of my readers. This is not an invitation to psychoanalyse me or anyone else! It is mainly a light-hearted piece, though with a deeper message, I suppose, about the deep sense of responsibility that comes with the privilege of working with young people.

Emma Kell is a secondary teacher in north-east London and author of How to Survive in Teaching

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Emma Kell
Dr Emma Kell is a secondary teacher in north-east London and author of How to Survive in Teaching. If you know a young person (a student or relative) interested in participating in this project, you can contact Emma on Twitter @thosethatcan

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